Tonight is a very big deal for those assembled. Roger Kynard Erickson – Roky to friends and fans is onstage in London for the very first time, four decades after the 13th Floor Elevators’ extraordinary swirl of psychedelic rock with amplified jug accompaniment made its indelible mark on the late ’60s underground map. The whole exhilarating noise was topped off by Roky’s mysterious Texan tones, and electrified by those seemingly impossible, blood-curdling shrieks he learned from Little Richard and James Brown.
Four decades is a long time and Roky’s drug abuse, followed by years of incarceration, electric shocks and damaging medication, made this day seem ever more unlikely. Even in a year when The Only Ones‘ Peter Perrett has returned to the stage and Sly Stone is set to headline a festival, Roky Erickson making it this far has always looked like a long shot. Keven McElester’s recent documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me, showed his many fans that he’s doing much better these days, but still, well, who’d a thunk it?
This being Meltdown, curator Jarvis Cocker is on hand to give Roky the introduction he deserves. Yes, this is a big deal, but as stories of his poor mental health are well-known, there’s a sense of trepidation, almost desperation, as much as anticipation. Come on Roky, you can do it! Is he going to fuck up? Everyone wills him on…
The star of the show is centre-stage, flanked by a supportive, if perfunctory, rock bar band. The guitar player handles the tricky stuff (sometimes a little too trickily), and the singer plays rhythm, ploughing through many of the highlights of his all-too-sporadic, sci-fi comic book horror movie-infested solo career: I Walked with a Zombie, Two-Headed Dog, Don’t Shake Me Lucifer, I Think of Demons, Creature with the Atom Brain, plus a stomping blues or two, including Bo Diddley‘s Before You Accuse Me, and the lovely, Buddy Holly-like Starry Eyes.
The Elevators‘ locker is raided only twice – first for the lovely Splash 1, and then the show-stopping You’re Gonna Miss Me, where he gives full vent to that awesome wail. Roky keeps the communication down to a minimum. “Thank you!… thank you!” he yells after literally every song, and raises a right hand at the close of the set and each encore. Jeez. Who knows how tough this is for the guy?
It’s a professional, well-drilled show. Maybe some of that ecstatic final cheering was out of delirious relief, but Roky seems to be doing okay, and there’s a whole bunch of people in the place who love him, and are grateful for that.